Iraq flag

Iraq country brief

General information

Modern Iraq was established as a British Protectorate in 1920 by the League of Nations, following the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.  A monarchy was established in 1921, with Iraq gaining its independence in 1932.  In 1958, the monarchy was overthrown in a military coup d’etat, and the Republic of Iraq was created.  It came under the control of the Ba'ath Party in 1968, with General Saddam Hussein gradually assuming control and formally acceding to the Presidency in 1979.  He ruled until the collapse of his regime, following US-led coalition military action launched in March 2003 over Iraq’s failure to cooperate in relation to suspected stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 687. 

Iraq shares borders with Iran, Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria.  It has a narrow section of coastline measuring 58 km on the northern Persian Gulf.  Its capital is Baghdad.  It has a total area of 438,317 km2 and a population of around 30 million.  There are 18 provinces in Iraq, including three provinces under the control of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), an autonomous regional government recognised under the Iraqi Constitution.

Political Overview

Iraq is a federal constitutional democracy. The Head of State is the President (Mr Jalal Talabani). The Head of Government is the Prime Minister, who is drawn, along with the Cabinet Ministers, from the Council of Representatives (CoR). Ministers forego their CoR seats to serve in Cabinet.  The Iraqi people elect the now 325 members of the CoR through an open-list, proportional representation electoral process.  In the March 2010 elections, 7 seats were specifically elected by Iraqis living outside Iraq, and another eight by minorities. Members serve four year terms.  The next round of national elections is scheduled for mid-2014.

After Saddam's fall in 2003, the coalition established the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).  The CPA transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi Interim Government in June 2004 until national elections were held on 30 January 2005; thereafter the Iraqi Transitional Government assumed authority.   In May 2005, the Iraqi Transitional Government appointed a multi-ethnic committee to draft a new Iraqi Constitution, which was ratified in a nationwide referendum held on 15 October 2005. On 15 December 2005, Iraqis again went to the polls to participate in the first national legislative elections as outlined by the Constitution. The government took office in March 2006 for a four year term, and a Cabinet led by Prime Minister Al-Maliki was approved and installed in May 2006.

The second national elections were held on 7 March 2010. The Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq (IHEC) estimated that 62 per cent of eligible Iraqis voted across the country. Australia was one of the sixteen countries where out-of-country voting took place.

Legal challenges delayed the inaugural session of the new Council of Representatives until 14 June 2010; it was then suspended indefinitely pending the appointment of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, President and Prime Minister. After a prolonged deadlock the CoR approved a new Government of National Unity, led by Prime Minister Al-Maliki, in December 2010.

Since January 2008, the CoR has passed several significant pieces of legislation, which have helped strengthen political, social and economic reconstruction. However a number of contentious issues remain unresolved including proposed legislation to provide a framework for foreign investment in the oil and gas sector, to establish a process for the distribution of oil revenue and to resolve the disputed territories of Iraq.

Security

Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iraq witnessed widespread violence led by insurgent groups along sectarian lines, and against the coalition forces. Peaking in 2006/2007, the security situation improved slowly due to a combination of ongoing political progress and the increased capability of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), under the guidance of coalition forces. These successes allowed coalition forces to progressively transfer primary security responsibility to the ISF.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1790, mandating the presence of multinational forces in Iraq, expired on 31 December 2008. With the mandate’s expiry, the Government of Iraq assumed full responsibility and sovereignty over the country, with foreign troops remaining in Iraq only with the agreement of the country's democratically elected government.  The United States withdrawal of its remaining forces at the end of 2011 represented the end of the international force presence in Iraq.

The country continues to face major security challenges, with extremists intent on using violence to undermine the government and inflame sectarian divisions.  The Australian Government advises Australians not to travel to Iraq, though advice for travel to the Provinces of Dahuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah under the Kurdish Regional Government is to “reconsider your need to travel”- see travel advice for Iraq.

Economic Overview

Following years of conflict and economic sanctions, the Iraqi economy is improving slowly.  Progress from a centrally planned economy to a more market oriented one remains uneven. Key challenges for the Iraqi Government include further increasing oil production, encouraging private sector development, improving service delivery (especially water and electricity), and ongoing security concerns.

In 2012, year-on-year inflation was 6.1 per cent. The Iraqi Dinar has replaced the US dollar as the main currency, and a functioning but small banking system and stock exchange now operate.  Iraq achieved GDP growth of 8.4 per cent in 2012. Oil is critical to the Iraqi economy as it accounts for more than 95 per cent of government revenue and over 80 per cent of export revenue. Iraq produced 2.6 million barrels of oil per day in 2012, up from 2.2 million in 2011.

For more information on the Iraqi economy, please see our Iraq fact sheet [PDF 50 KB].

Bilateral Relationship

Australia and Iraq enjoy a friendly and increasingly diverse relationship, with regular engagement on diplomatic, political and economic issues.  Australia and Iraq are represented bilaterally through Embassies in Baghdad and Canberra respectively.  Iraq has a Consulate-General in Sydney and the Kurdish Regional Government retains a representative office, also in Sydney.

Australia has had diplomatic relations with Iraq in various forms since 1935. Australia opened an Embassy in Baghdad in 1976; Iraq established an Embassy in Canberra in 1995.

After the closure of the Australian Embassy in Baghdad in 1991, and the closure of the Iraqi Embassy in Canberra in 2003, full diplomatic relations resumed when both Embassies reopened in 2004, following the transfer of authority from the CPA to the Iraqi Interim Government.

Australian forces joined coalition action against the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and retained a contribution for the next eight years.  The withdrawal in August 2011 of the small number of remaining Australian military personnel, providing security to the Australian Embassy in Baghdad, ended Australia's military deployment in Iraq.   

In March 2009, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki visited Australia as a Guest of Government. As the first visit by an Iraqi Prime Minister to Australia, Prime Minister Al-Maliki's visit signalled a new phase in the bilateral relationship. During the visit, Prime Minister Al-Maliki and then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd signed a declaration   on increased cooperation in six key areas and to enhance trade and investment ties. Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) were subsequently developed on Agriculture; Resources and Energy; Trade Cooperation; Education, Training and Research; Public Health; and Security and Border Control.

Ms Julia Gillard, Deputy Prime Minister at the time, signed the six MOUs in Baghdad on 27 June 2009 with relevant Iraqi Ministers, in the presence of Prime Minister Al-Maliki.  Implementation progress under these MoUs is reviewed at annual Senior Officials Talks.

Australia has provided significant assistance to Iraq since 2003 to improve the lives of Iraqis and to help them rebuild after decades of war and dictatorship. In addition to around $400 million in aid targeting health, education, food security, water and sanitation and governance, Australia has provided close to $1 billion in debt relief. 

More information on Australia's development assistance to Iraq

There is a sizeable Iraqi community in Australia. As at 30 June 2011, 50,450 people born in Iraq were living in Australia. In 2011-12 Iraqis were the second largest national group of entrants to Australia under Australia's Humanitarian Program.

Commercial Relations

Historically, Australia's primary commercial interest in Iraq has been wheat, which it has exported to Iraq for over 50 years.  Australia’s wheat exports to Iraq in 2012 were valued at $153 million.

The Australian and Iraqi Governments continue to work to broaden bilateral trade relations. In 2007, Iraq announced the opening of an Iraq Trade Liaison Office in Canberra and the appointment of a senior trade official to Australia. At the same time, The Australian Embassy in Baghdad and Austrade continue to facilitate commercial links between Australia and Iraq  For further information on export opportunities in Iraq and the current trade environment see the Austrade website.

Australia actively supported Iraq's successful bid for observer status in the World Trade Organisation and will continue to assist Iraq to engage with the global economy.

Updated January 2014